The Grand Committee, with ten members from various states, met in 1787 to resolve the deadlock between the Virginia and New Jersey Plans for a national government. Elbridge Gerry, as the Chairman, presented the report of the Committee after a convention which dragged on for a suspicious length of time.
The Grand Committee
The composition of the Grand Committee to resolve the deadlock between the Virginia and New Jersey Plans for a national government could not have offered much consolation to either James Madison or James Wilson, fixed as they were on the proposal for a two-house Congress, both houses popularly elected by the people at large rather than chosen by the state legislatures.
Each state delegation in the Assembly Room was to contribute one member to the Grand Committee, and it all leaned in the opposite direction from Madison and Wilson.
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Members of the Grand Committee
The committee was composed of Abraham Baldwin from Georgia; William Paterson from New Jersey; Luther Martin, Paterson’s Maryland ally; and the utterly uncooperative Robert Yates from New York.
In fact, both Madison and Wilson themselves were passed over for membership on the Committee. George Mason was selected to represent Virginia, and Benjamin Franklin was to sit for Pennsylvania.
Rounding out the Grand Committee were Roger Sherman for Connecticut, William Davie of North Carolina, John Rutledge of South Carolina, and the committee’s chairman, Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts—none of them having said a word in support of Madison and Wilson.
Learn more about the Constitutional Convention.
Suggestions Put Forth by the Members
The members set to work as soon as the Convention adjourned on July 2, 1787, meeting for dinner at Franklin’s house on Market Street that evening, and then meeting again the next day in the State House. The atmosphere was tense.
Gerry, the chair of the Grand Committee, thought the moment was so serious as to threaten dissolution of the Convention. But Franklin turned out to be far less doddering in committee than he appeared on the Convention’s floor. He pressed on the Grand Committee a series of formulas which he believed would placate both the Madisonian big-staters and the Patersonian small-staters, and it ran like this:
First, let there be two houses to the National Congress. Then, let the lower house—the House of Representatives—be elected by the population at large, so that, yes, the large states like Virginia and Pennsylvania would have a disproportionately large representation over against the small states; and let one representative be elected to this house for every 40,000 inhabitants. Then, let the upper house—the Senate—be the place where each state, regardless of size, would be represented equally.
Carefully, Franklin did not specify what he meant by an ‘inhabitant’.
Tense Celebrations on the Fourth of July
Outside, in the streets of Philadelphia, the weather was approaching the hottest it had been since the beginning of the summer. The Fourth of July was celebrated with bell ringing, artillery salutes, and fireworks.
The Society of the Cincinnati held a parade with accompaniments of music from martial instruments from the State House to the German Reformed Church on Race Street, where an orator held forth on the advantages which have resulted to mankind from the Independence of America.
But none of the festivities could quite dampen the undercurrent of anxiety people were feeling at the lack of news from a convention which now seemed to be dragging on at suspicious length.
These anxieties took a sharper edge from the fact that Elbridge Gerry, as the chair of the Grand Committee, would be making its report when the Convention reassembled on July 5.
Elbridge Gerry: Chair of the Grand Committee
A spare, thin, sunken-cheeked merchant from Marblehead who looked vastly older than his nearly 43 years, Elbridge Gerry had graduated from Harvard in 1762. He then went into the family business and later joined politics. He was elected to the 2nd Continental Congress, where he signed the Declaration of Independence.
He was, by temperament, suspicious. Accustomed in the early period of his life to watch with a jealous eye, the actions and opinions of those who administered the government, to anticipate evil even for ostensible good, and to calculate on coming danger before even its shadow could be seen, he acquired an indisposition to give his confidence easily, readily, or freely.
What aggravated this deficit was his limitation as a speaker in a convention where oratorical skills were vital. In fact, Gerry suffered with the challenge of stuttering.
The observant William Pierce admitted that Mr. Gerry’s character was marked for integrity and perseverance, but he was a hesitating and laboring speaker, and only sometimes clear in his arguments.
Learn more about the Articles of Confederation.
Gerry’s Report of the Grand Committee
Gerry was clear enough, though, when, on the morning of July 5, he made the report of the Grand Committee. And the report went like this:
First, that in the 1st branch of the Legislature, the House of Representatives, each of the States now in the Union shall be allowed 1 member for every 40,000 inhabitants, and that each State not containing that number shall be allowed 1 member; that all bills for raising or appropriating money, and for fixing the salaries of the officers of the Government of the United States shall originate in the 1st branch of the Legislature, and shall not be altered or amended by the 2nd branch; and that no money shall be drawn from the public Treasury but in pursuance of appropriations to be originated in the 1st branch. Second, that in the 2nd branch, the Senate, each State shall have an equal vote.
Gerry was candid enough to add that the Grand Committee had “agreed to the Report merely in order that some ground of accommodation might be proposed,” and that “those opposed to the equality of votes have only assented conditionally.”
Common Questions about The Grand Committee: Members, Proposals, and Report
The Grand Committee was composed of Abraham Baldwin of Georgia; William Paterson of New Jersey; Luther Martin of Maryland; Robert Yates of New York; George Mason of Virginia; Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania; Roger Sherman of Connecticut; William Davie of North Carolina; John Rutledge of South Carolina; and the committee’s chairman, Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts .
Benjamin Franklin proposed that first, let there be two houses to the National Congress. Then, let the lower house—the House of Representatives—be elected by the population at large and let one representative be elected to this house for every 40,000 inhabitants. Then, let the upper house—the Senate—be the place where each state, regardless of size, would be represented equally.
Elbridge Gerry had graduated from Harvard in 1762, went into the family business, then into politics, and was elected to the 2nd Continental Congress, where he signed the Declaration of Independence. He was the chairman of the Grand Committee.